Four years ago, Mica Raas’ team of six winemakers was producing 2.4 million gallons of wine per year at one of California’s large contract wine manufacturers. Since 2009, he’s been making 1000 times less, having started his own winery, Mica Cellars, in a Watsonville warehouse. He did this for the same reasons that Applied Motion was founded in 1978: to create and market products that embody his own vision, design and craftsmanship.
Mica Cellars shares a space called Winemakers Studio on Hanger Way, near the Watsonville Municipal Airport. It’s just up the street from one of our contract assemblers. You would never guess from the industrial surroundings that Mica and fellow tenant Roudon Smith are producing excellent, hand crafted wines on site.
He’s making around 1000 cases per year with carefully selected, purchased fruit and French oak barrels. The barrel room is a typical industrial warehouse with roll up doors, but is well insulated and filled with racks of oak barrels, fermentation tanks, and the usual pumps and hoses. At Mica’s previous job, they pumped the wine out of the tanks with 6 inch hoses and 10 HP pumps. You won’t see that at the artisanal wineries you’ve read about in these columns. Some even arrange their equipment so that the wine can be “gravity fed” instead of pumped. Peter Bargetto, a partner in Soquel Vineyards, tells me that his small, cavitation-free Italian pumps are just as good to the wine as letting it flow downhill.
Many of my favorite wines are single vineyard. They have a distinctive flavor, traceable to a particular spot on Earth, and the label bears this out. Instead of “California”, a single vineyard label might read “Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands”. The Mica Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir offers engineer-like precision in “Smith Road Vineyards, Rows 2-5, Santa Cruz Mountains”.
My wife and I have been to visit several times and we always take home a bottle of Pinot Noir, and sometimes Cabernet Franc. Franc is a close cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon and is usually grown so it can be blended with other Bordeaux varietals. But a well made, single vineyard Cabernet Franc is a treat. Mica Cellars also mixes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes before fermentation in what is called a “field blend”. The tannins combine chemically during fermentation, producing flavors that are not possible if the blending occurs later in the process.
Having helped start something from nothing myself, I can only wish Mica Raas the best of luck with his venture. He’s off to a great start. If you get a chance, stop by 18 Hanger Way on a Saturday afternoon, and treat yourself to a taste of some very enjoyable wine.